Stratford Food Festival
PUBLISHED: 11:13 17 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:51 20 February 2013
Stratford Food Festival is back and it's bigger and better than ever, Juliette Kemp discovers.
"There'sjust nothing better than sitting on the banks of the Avon enjoying a glass of wine and an ostritch burger.
As a chef reduces the contents of a sauce into a concentrated taste experience, Will Stuart has distilled the delights of Stratfords forthcoming food festival: a prime and attractive venue on the banks opposite the RSC theatre - and the opportunity to taste and buy an extraordinary range of great tasting food and drink all within the space of two days.
Its the second year for the event in its new form, a transformation which began last year when Will, director of sales and marketing at Clifford Chambers-based Showplace Hospitality Suites Ltd, teamed up with the organisers of the towns weekly markets and Stratfordward, the business improvement organisation to run what was then a struggling festival.
Some 12,500 thousand visitors and much acclaim later, the feast for foodies is back, with promises that its going to be bigger and better.
Gone is last years Friday night music but September 24 and 25 will see Stratford transformed into a treasure trove for the tastebuds.
Marquees filled with local producers and others from further afield, all passionate about putting the very best on the table, and cookery demonstrations will be found in the riverside gardens while theres a British Farmers market in the town centre, a French Market in Bridge Street and an Italian Market in Henley Street, a taste trail plus live music and entertainment all weekend.
The Guild of Fine Foods will have a first-time presence, as will the RSCs own restaurant a prospect Will is looking forward to with relish.
Ive always felt that the RSC is one of the big cornerstones of the festival and if we can get them involved in some way that works for them then thats great.
This years new arrivals mark the continuation of a journey to put Stratfords food festival firmly on the map.
And experienced professionals that they are Showplace, the biggest stakeholder of the festival triumvirate is involved with some of the most prestigious events and festivals around the country lessons have been learned.
The site is now fenced off, enabling attendance to be counted, thus providing a valuable database for attracting sponsors. This year sees Lakeland on board. Its also meant the introduction of an entry fee a not unreasonable 5 per adult, with under 16s admitted free.
There was a little bit of resilience, Will acknowledges, But, at the end of the day, if we dont charge theres no festival.
Weve done the research and were one of the cheapest in the country. Visitors can spend four or five hours there and this year we have a free booklet with 30-40-worth of discounts, but were very conscious of the fact that if the figures dont stack, its all meaningless.
Were investing in this, its costing us hard cash, theres a lot of risk involved and we get no funding whatsoever.
I wouldnt say councils are not interested, but theyve got their eye on other things and when youre trying to make things stack up it is a great challenge.
Yet he remains enormously positive and excited about the festivals future.
Compared with the other work we do it probably shows the smallest return at this stage, he says.
In the next three to five years it has the potential to make the greatest contribution
The challenge is, he says, to get the momentum going. Once you have that it carries on. Thats what were trying to do at the moment and its certainly reflecting in exhibitor figures to date were 40% up already.
Last year we had producers in a very big marquee, this year weve nearly filled a second marquee already, theres been a lot of interest.
Festival ambassador and local culinary luminary Alan Coxon aside (hes great, enthuses Will), dont expect to see any big name chefs.
I wouldnt say its set in stone but we want the festival to grow on its own merits, Will explains. As nice it is to sprinkle it with stardust we want people to come down and enjoy it because its a food festival, not because its scattered with food celebrities.
And those merits include Warwickshires sheer diversity as a food producer, Were lucky that weve got a very good mix of produce and producers rather than individuals, Will says, before, pointing out the downside of a lack of a specific food identity and citing Kent (vegetables) and Herefordshire (beef) as examples of those who have.
For him, the answer lies in and it seems obvious the towns most famous son and Wills namesake.
Im convinced weve got to go the route through Shakespeare, he says. Its something were trying to work on. We have the Birthplace Trust coming; last year they cooked Elizabethan fruitcake which was just the best thing in the world.
For now, however, the emphasis is on the riverside setting and encouraging food lovers to visit.
If we can get 12.5,00, again Id be delighted, declares Will. It does depend on the weather a bit, but September is often dryer than May and wed love to get 13,000 or 14,000.
If you had to write a list of venues where youd most want to hold a food festival, Stratford has to be among the top three.
It is a fantastic site and is a primary destination for a lot of international, as well as UK tourists. If you add a food festival then theres just nothing better.
Fundamentally, were in it for the long term and we want to grow this into one of the real big food festivals of the Midlands.
Visitors it seems, will soon be staying in the town on a Bard and board basis.